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The first week of January has come and gone. Have you blown your New Year’s resolution to get in the best shape of your life yet? OK, no, that’s not funny. The urge to get fit at the start of a new year is serious business to a lot of people, typically the top goal among Americans making resolutions, along with eating healthier and losing weight. And running can be a good impetus to achieving all three, but it can only happen if done in consistent, measured doses.
A series of challenges, injuries, time commitments and excuses led me to less-than-optimal fitness last year. While I’ve never been concerned with what I weigh or my physical appearance, I definitely appreciate the benefits and the life-affirming vibe that comes from building and maintaining aerobic conditioning and general strength. Here are some of the key points I followed to start a simple and sensible approach to a running program that helped rejuvenate my fitness.
1. Just go for a run.
More than half the battle to start running is just … to start running. When we’re in a fitness rut or life is extremely busy, the time, effort or motivation to go running seems to slip away or become completely non-existent. You’ve just gotta make time for what’s important to you — even if it’s only 15 to 20 minutes on some days, if that’s all you can spare. Remember, the essence of Newton’s First Law of Motion — a body at rest will remain at rest, a body in motion tends to stay in motion. And take heed to Yoda’s call to action: “Do or do not. There is no try.” It doesn’t matter how fast you run or how long you run. There’s no such thing as a perfect workout, so don’t burden yourself with that pressure. It doesn’t have to be pretty or even feel good. Just lace up your shoes and go for a run. (Yes, there are different approaches for new runners than there are for lapsed runners and runners returning from injury.) You’ll always feel better by whatever running you can squeeze in and the residual benefits and momentum will continue to grow.
2. Small steps will lead to big rewards.
One of the great things about running is that there are no shortcuts. The way to improve aerobic fitness and general strength is to do the work consistently. “Ninety percent of success in running comes down to a willingness to work hard and sacrifice, and being consistent,” says Alan Culpepper, head coach of the Hoka NAZ Elite program. Avoid frequent gaps in which you run three or four days in a row, then miss three or four days in a row. Instead, develop running as a habit by getting into a rhythm with small but consistent doses of running. On a very simple basis, that might mean running just 25 to 35 minutes (almost) every single day, working on core strength movements for 15 minutes every other day. (Planking and pedestal movements have been my go-to jam to get stronger.) I also cross-train with cycling and swimming to mix things up, but on a simple time/benefit basis, nothing beats running.
3. Remember, no one cares. (So you’d certainly better!)
If you’re not relentlessly committed to your running and fitness goals, who will be? No one is going to do the work for you. Procrastination, imposter syndrome and even fatigue are all just excuses we make up to avoid being committed to running. As hilarious Instagram sensation Laura Green reminds us, no one cares. Your friends might be happy for you if you run your first marathon or fastest half marathon, but for only about the time it takes to double-tap and “like” your Instagram post. In reality, no one else really cares if you run or if you don’t. No one cares how fast or slow you run. No one cares about your running goals. No one cares if you went for a run today. No one cares if you did a long run on the weekend. And no one should care about your running — except for you. If you run, you are a runner, so take the reins and make it everything you want it to be.
4. Detach from technology.
I have a couple of great running watches, but, to honest, taking a break from technology on my runs lately has been incredibly liberating. Modern music and data-tracking devices are great, but so is the purity of just going for a run completely detached and just feeling the sun on your face and seeing the scenery around you. I’ve found that to be especially true running without my phone. I know that might sound like sacrilege to many people who want or feel like they need to be connected — and if you consider your smartphone a safety device and absolutely have to carry it, I get it — but I’ve found running without my phone has been really refreshing. Leaving it at home or in my truck has allowed me to focus solely on the enjoyment of running. How? It allows me to go on trail runs without stopping to take photos, reduces the anxious tendency to check my email or see who texted me, allows me to avoid answering calls mid-run and just eliminates the hefty burden of carrying my phone.
5. Plan your runs with intention.
The best way to create consistency in your running is to plan ahead. I’ve found that if I wake up every day with an intent to go for a run but don’t have a plan or schedule for it, I’m always scrambling to find time to lace up my shoes and actually go for a run. That leads to inconsistency and deteriorating returns. When you plan your runs days in advance, you’re able to build your days around your runs and start to build momentum. Building out your running schedule a week in advance gives you the opportunity to also plan in advance when you’ll be doing easy runs, running harder workers, doing your long runs, going for a trail run and when you’ll be running with friends. But another key piece of finding time amid a busy daily schedule is doing as many runs as possible right out of my own front door. I sometimes meet people to run or start from a trailhead, but to keep things simple I run from home most of the time.
6. Run early.
Trust me on this, there’s no better time to run than at sunrise. And there are plenty of benefits to running early in the morning, both in terms of efficiently managing your day and from starting each day inspired. There’s something very energizing and rejuvenating about forcing yourself to get out of bed earlier than you normally might just so you can see the sun come up. But only those who dare skimp a bit on their slumber ever really know that. As a runner, it’s especially rewarding because it means you’re using your own power to rise with purpose and be present in the new day. It can be difficult to do it every day, but try it a few times and, trust me, those inspiring early morning feels will spill into the rest of your day.
7. Run with others.
I’ve run more than 80,000 miles in my life and, if I had to guess, I’d say two-thirds of that mileage has been done entirely on my own. I love running alone, but running with friends, running buddies and joining random group runs always seems to infuse inspiration, accountability and fun into my weekly training regimen. Drop in at a group run at your local running store. Find a happy hour pub run. Create a new once-a-week running group with friends, neighbors or colleagues. Even if you only run with others once a week, the shared purpose, effort and joy will become something you look forward to.
8. Don’t overdo it.
If you’re just getting back into fitness, don’t immediately leap into a marathon training program because you think it’s a life goal that will validate your efforts. (And OMG, definitely don’t sign up for your first ultra-distance race!) Just keep it simple, spend 30 to 60 days of running consistently and see where that takes you. I truly believe that everyone can run a marathon, but I also believe that not everyone should — until they get sufficiently fit and strong. Having a race out in front of you like a carrot is a great way to stay motivated, but there’s nothing wrong with that goal race being a 5K, 10K or half marathon. Running a marathon (and even an ultra) can certainly be life-affirming experiences, but starting a training plan with a good level of fitness is a much better way to begin (or rekindle) your journey.
9. Spend less, run more.
Running is beautiful because of its simplicity. The old adage that you just need to wear a T-shirt and shorts and lace up a pair of running shoes might be oversimplifying things, but there’s plenty of truth in it. You don’t need a lot of gear to get started. Yes, I would recommend visiting your local running store and getting a pair of shoes that fits your feet and matches your gait style, but generally speaking, don’t get bogged down by what you don’t have. Don’t worry if you’re running in last year’s outdated running apparel or an old pair of cotton sweatpants. Don’t burden your running and fitness goals on the notion that you have to buy $250 racing shoes with carbon-fiber plates, a $500 smartwatch, stylish $24 socks or even $4 energy gels. You don’t need any of that stuff to become a healthy, consistent runner. You just need to run on a consistent basis.
10. Start a running streak.
In December, I challenged myself to run at least 30 minutes for 30 straight days and the result has been nothing short of a stunning kick-start to an improved level of fitness that has also inspired improved nutritional habits and a better sleep routine. On the face of it, 30 days isn’t a very long time and running every day for a full month isn’t really a big deal, especially when you keep your mileage and intensity low like I did. But it actually is a big deal, because the commitment is both very real and extremely purposeful and the benefits are small but immense. And, perhaps most importantly, it breaks a previous on-and-off routine by mandating consistency. Taking days off from running to rest and recover are certainly an important part of a dedicated training plan and highly recommended if you’re training for a race. But to get things started in the first months of the year, sticking to a streak will help make running a habitual part of your daily life, develop joy and motivation from purposeful, self-induced action and also help you greatly enhance your fitness that you can continue to build on.